August 12, 2011

Is there anyone in the White House with nerve enough to tell Barack Obama that Martha’s Vineyard is the last place on earth that the president of the United States should find himself next week?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge the chief executive a little time off from the Oval Office.

But to be leaving town to spend 10 days luxuriating in an affluent, New England summer town when millions of Americans can’t find work? To fly off to the Vineyard when the public is losing faith in Washington’s ability to fix the nation’s economic problems, and with people anxious about their futures?

What is he thinking? It’s not as if the Obama family is living in deprivation in Washington.

Without leaving the White House grounds, they have access to five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a jogging trail, a putting green and a movie theater that shows first-run films on demand. That’s hardly roughing it.

And if the president ever feels the need to get away, let’s say to seek a little solitude and tranquility beyond the confines of hot and humid Washington, the American taxpayers have thoughtfully provided a secluded country residence for the first family’s exclusive use in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park. It’s called Camp David. A hardship post it is not.

Camp David comes equipped with 24-hour guard service, including fighter jets, to keep gawkers and riff-raff out of sight. For presidential enjoyment, Camp David’s wooded mountaintop has a swimming pool, a sauna, tennis courts, a bowling alley, a trout stream and movie facilities, again with first-run features on demand.

Plus there are guest cottages should the Obamas wish to have a few friends over.

And, of course, highly trained chefs are also on hand to provide top-quality meals.

Ah, but that seems to be not enough when stacked against Cape Cod.

A Post poll this week showed confidence in Obama to make the right decisions for the country’s economic future is down 10 points, to 33 percent, since January. His vacation decision making ranks right down there, too.

This is not the way a president should be spending his time. Not when, for the first time in U.S. history, the country’s credit rating has been downgraded; when so many families are barely scraping by, many not knowing where the next mortgage or rent payment is coming from.

Not when nearly three-quarters of Americans polled say that they have little or no confidence in Washington’s ability to repair the economy — up from half in October 2010.

The White House confirmed that the president would travel to the Vineyard, presumably in his taxpayer-provided jet, after a bus tour that starts on Monday and takes him through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. “The president,” said the announcement, “will discuss ways to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and accelerate hiring in communities and towns across the nation and hear directly from Americans, including small business owners [and] local families.. . .

Obama shouldn’t quit his visit to America at midweek. I’ll be so bold as to suggest that if his family really has a hankering for the Vineyard, which will mark their third straight summer outing on the island, then, by all means, let them go.

But he must stay behind.

This is no time for the president to dwell in splendid seclusion among the rich and famous. Barack Obama’s got business to attend to.

He should use this summer to spend some time with folks who can’t afford to take a vacation. And not just in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, which happen to be states that he won in 2008.

Mr. President, people are hurting all over America. Listen to inner-city parents across the dinner table, blue-collar workers in unemployment lines and suburban, middle-class families one paycheck away from hitting up the in-laws for a loan.

Hear what’s in their hearts. Experience their anger and frustration. Not through cards and letters but firsthand, face to face.

Explain yourself to them. Tell them about your plans to strengthen this weak economy, to help get them on their feet. Tell them about how you will get the better of congressional conservatives who have had a high old time getting the better of you.

Show them, if you can, where you are taking the country and that it’s not you, sir, who’s being taken.

No, Mr. President, Martha’s Vineyard is the last place in the world you should visit next week. You simply don’t have time to take time off from America.

kingc@washpost.com